Barcelona is an incredible city with many things to do and see, but where you stay is really important.
Although there are only 10 districts in Barcelona, each one offers different experiences and ambiance, so it’s up to you to decide which fits you best. Here I’ll explain what you may find in each neighborhood, as well as some of my personal experiences.
Let’s go in order from the most busy and popular, to the outskirts of Barcelona.
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Ciutat Vella (Old City)
This district is explained in the name. It’s the oldest part of the city where you can find beautiful architecture, shops, cafés, and the hustle and bustle of international tourists. This district breaks down into five neighborhoods, which are separated by the famous Rambla (a long main street with vendors and tourists).
La Rambla starts at Plaza Catalunya (the heart of Barcelona – A.K.A. downtown). To the left of La Rambla, you have El Raval. To the right, Barrio Gótico, and at the bottom, Barceloneta. This district as a whole has various sights such as Plaza Catalunya, La Boqueria, the Picasso Museum, the Cathedral and more.
Barrio Gótico (Gothic Quarter)
Where it all started: the cultural hub of history and beauty. This area is full of beautiful architecture, small winding cobblestone streets, a ton of restaurants and bars, as well as shops. The shopping ranges from well-known stores to boutique shops — catering to all types of shoppers and budgets. Don’t worry if you get lost here, it’s perfectly normal!
This is a very lively neighborhood with a mix of locals and internationals, which also allows for mingling. It is super close to the main points in the city and close to the beach. This barrio (neighborhood) also has good transportation — with three metro stations along the Rambla and plenty of bus options.
El Born is the more trendy neighborhood in the city. This vibrant neighborhood will keep you out and about trying all the local cafés, bars, and restaurants. It is also full of skateboarders, bikers, and dogs. The nightlife is also very alive here making it a great spot for internationals, students, and young adults. This location is incredible (I actually live here now and wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else in Barcelona). It’s a short walk to the beach, to Ciutadella park, and is easily accessible by metro and various bus lines.
Barceloneta (Barcelona Beach)
This neighborhood is super close to Barceloneta Beach, seafood restaurants, and streets with lots of character. It is great for those who want to feel a little away from the city and who enjoy the beach lifestyle. This area is also well-connected to transportation lines and isn’t far from Barcelona’s center.
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This area has a bad name due to the amount of crimes that occur there from robberies to prostitution. It is starting to shape up and some parts are pretty relaxed (above Carrer de l’Hospital). However there are some nice bars and restaurants in this area, and there is always something to see. There’s lots of movement all throughout the day and feels completely different from the other neighborhoods.
Although El Raval is getting better, I would give a word of caution to people. I lived there for 10 months and the overall experience was nice however I had some bad things happen. I wouldn’t recommend it to women, as I was harassed many times and saw it happen to many others walking by. My guy roommates would walk with me outside for the first few blocks whenever they could. I also had another friend living there who was jumped and robbed while he was walking at night.
The entire neighborhood is not bad though, but there are definitely certain streets I would try to avoid. As mentioned, I would just live above Carrer de l’Hospital.
This district sits right above Ciutat Vella and has a few interesting sights such as Gaudi’s famous Casa Batlló, La Pedrera (Casa Mila), and La Sagrada Familia. Both of Gaudi’s casas (homes) can be found on Passeig the Gracia, a very luxurious street with high-class residences. This street is the go-to for shopping without a budget and separates Eixample Left from Eixample Right.
This neighborhood is perfect for those with a higher budget, and who prefer being outside of the super busy streets. It is a more calm and residential area with many cafés, bars, and nice restaurants. The cuisines found here are also more of an authentic Spanish style. Eixample feels like a slowed-down version of the city (unless you live right on Passieg de Gracia of course), even though it’s not far from Barcelona’s center.
Oh, and it’s also not super hard to find your way around this neighborhood as the streets are pretty straight forward unlike in Ciutat Vella.
This neighborhood is directly up North from Eixample, and is super small. It feels like a bohemian village with a mix of locals, international people, and diverse bars and restaurants. It’s a great place to go during the day or in the summer when they have more activities such as La Gracia Fiesta in August.
It is also home to Parc Güell, another one of Gaudi’s famous works. I know a few students who lived in Gràcia and loved it, even though it’s a bit far. With the Metro, you can reach the city center in about 10-15 minutes — depends on where you need to go.
On the left side of both Ciutat Vella and Eixample, is Sants-Montjuïc, home to Plaça Espanya, Poble Espanyol, the Olympic Stadium used in 1992, and the famous hill Montjuïc. Although there are some nice sights to see here, the majority of the area is residential and considered to be on the outskirts of the center. The further out you go to the left, the further away from Barcelona you go.
This area is relatively calm and more for families and Spaniards. Living here could be a good way to get more of an authentic cultural experience — but it is a bit out the way (of course depending on what you’re in Barcelona for).
Located to the right side of Ciutadella Park, is a commercial and business area. There are hotels, bars, restaurants, and even the clubs from Port Olympic (Pacha, Opium, Carpe Diem, etc.) There are a lot of beaches that are less touristy than La Barceloneta as well. Although this is a more commercial, there are also a lot of more modern apartment complexes. It is definitely a more quiet area, residence wise, as there is more open space and it’s not in the center of Barcelona.
This neighborhood is considered the financial district of Barcelona, as it has many company buildings, shops, and universities. Residentially speaking, there are some nice calm areas to live in and you can reach the city center by metro or bus. It’s a great place to walk around with a lot of open space and parks as well — it’s also home to the famous Camp Nou.
**NOTE: I know people who have lived in all the places listed above, but have yet to meet any international student or intern who lives in the areas below.
This area is more high-end with big beautiful houses. Being North-West of the city gives it more free space, a village feel, and an outdoorsy ambiance with Tibidabo overlooking it (where you can go to an old amusement park and see great views of Barcelona). It is on the outskirts of the city and can take some time to get to the center.
This area is very calm, peaceful, and local. Situated even further up North than Gràcia, it is out the way (near the mountains) and doesn’t have many international visitors. It is a great place to stay if you like the more calm, village atmosphere, but just remember to look into transportation.
Located on the East of Horta-Guinardo and Gràcia, it is also a super Spanish-only neighborhood. There are barely any tourists or internationals here, and you can feel it in the calm atmosphere.
Sant Andreu is located under Nou Barris, and is also mostly inhabited by locals. Since it is mostly untouched by tourists, it is a great place with tradition, history, and food.
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No matter where you decide to live, whether that be in the main city or on the outskirts, just remember that the transportation system is pretty good and it doesn’t take too long to get from point A to point B.
Barcelona feels huge, but if you spend most of your time in the main city, you won’t feel far from anything at all. Barcelona is also known for having a ton of bicyclists, and…walkers. Walking is a great way to get around (and recommended), as it’s a pretty walkable city, and there’s plenty to see by foot.
If you are planning on living in Barcelona and have picked your two or three top areas to live in, the next step is finding an apartment!
Where have you lived in Barcelona? Which neighborhood do you recommend?